What comes to mind when you hear about doping, drugs/drug testing, exploitation of unpaid athletes, domestic violence, #MeToo, illegal endorsements and national anthem protests? In today’s never-ending news cycles, the number and variety of sports’ scandals and controversies appears to be in the top spot, ahead of both Hollywood/entertainment and politics. Not an enviable winning position, to say the least.
What causes so many scandals in sport? The proverbial sports adage, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” feeds the competitive fires of every athlete, every coach and every sports enthusiast. The opportunity to be a world champion or be the undisputed best stirs something deep within most of us. Most athletes start very young, they are fiercely competitive, and they love both the sport and the thrill of victory. Athletic prowess becomes a part of one’s core identity, making it easy for teams and colleges to take advantage of budding young stars. Throw in potentially lucrative financial opportunities, and a perfect storm is starting to brew. Sport controversies and scandals are the natural outcome of these strong forces.
We recently met with an intercollegiate AD (Athletic Director) who told us the new slogan for their athletic department was “Winning the right way.” They were determined to stop taking advantage of athletic performance at the expense of character. Their goal was to create student athletes who became leaders in sport, the community, business and politics instead of having ex-athletes whose life after sport was far worse than before. A key area of focus for this AD was leadership development, starting at the top of the organization and cascading to those who interact most closely with athletes – the coaches and assistant coaches. We then asked about what makes a great leader in intercollegiate athletics. Instead of being presented with a clear vision of the type of leadership they needed to aspire to, we learned that each assistant director/coach/assistant coach would identify key areas for development they were going to work on. While this was a solid step in the right direction, we wondered how athletes could become better leaders without a clear vision of what great leadership is and what it is not.
We imagine coaches at every level today with an angel and a devil on her/his shoulder. The angel is constantly reminding the coach “winning the right way,” trying to counteract the devil’s slogan, “winning is the only thing.” So which one do they pay most attention to? Most coaches know how to develop athletic performance and competitiveness. They draw upon advances in physiology, equipment, training, and analytics to gain every inch possible to put their athletes and teams in a position to win.
We believe most coaches also have a genuine desire to win the right way. What’s missing, however, are the type of resources they have on the sports side of things. They lack a clear vision of what that means for them as coaches and for the athletes they work with. They have a limited amount of time with athletes and they lack expertise how to develop better human beings who have strong character and who can become positive contributors to society.
Fortunately, through new analytics we, at ExecutiveScience, have a crystal-clear picture of what great leadership is and how powerful leaders can be developed quickly and effectively. When athletes experience great leadership – from the top down to the coaches – and they understand it’s powerful impact, their sport experience becomes a springboard for personal excellence and a lifetime of sustained progress and happiness.
Let’s put sport back at the top of the best things about society in every possible way.